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How to Motivate Gen Z Student Workers in Campus Retail

Posted by Liz Schulte on 5/6/20 6:30 AM
Topics: college store growth opportunity, college bookstore industry trends, campus retail

Student employees can be a great resource for campus retail. They bring new energy into the store and provide helpful insight about their likes and dislikes. However, how does this latest generation of student workers differ from previous generations?

How to motivate Gen Z student workers. Generation Z students were born between 1996 and 2010. Their lifelong access to instant information, mobile technology and social media has helped shaped how they process and learn information. Recent research has found that 43 percent of Gen Z students prefer taking a self-directed and independent approach to learning, but what does that mean in a campus retail setting?

3 ways to motivate campus retail student workers

  1. Interactive training
    When training Gen Z employees, personal instruction and interactive online training can help them quickly learn new information and processes. Fifty-one percent of Gen Z respondents said they prefer hands-on learning, according to Barnes & Noble College research.

    Gen Z student workers are likely to have spent a lot of time using technology as children. Seventy-three percent of surveyed own video game consoles compared to 66 percent of millennials. Studies have shown that playing action video games help improve learning capabilities.

    One of the main components of training a new student worker is to get them familiar with the college store system By investing in an ongoing system training package, not only can your regular full-time employees stay current on the system, but new student workers can also utilize the training resources available to your store.

    “We don’t have a lot of full-time employees, so we have more turnover than we would prefer. That’s why we maintain our training package. It benefits us to keep people in the know,” New Mexico Junior College Bookstore Assistant Director for Bookstore Services Julie Buchanan said.

  2. Mentoring
    Gen Z student workers are independent self-starters. Set aside one-on-one mentoring time with student workers to help set the tone and encourage them to share their store marketing ideas. Ask them specific questions about the best way to engage students online and how they would suggest the store could increase foot traffic. The results could surprise you.

    For stores that employ a lot of student workers, one-on-one mentoring might not be feasible, but you can still engage student employees and seek feedback.

    “We’ve been trying to do more things that focus on our student staff, like having some student potlucks. We try to help promote their success in general. We’ve gotten the student staff involved in a lot of our marketing and have helped them become more aware of what the bookstore does. We employ over 100 students. The more they know, the more they can share with the people that they know,” Director of the University of Tennessee’s Volshop Carol Miller Schaefer said.

  3. Practical experience
    Gen Z is a career-minded generation. Offering student workers practical experience that they can use to build their resumes and develop soft skills (social skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence, etc.) gives them a more vested interest in their job at the bookstore.

    Consider areas where Gen Z students excel and how your store can benefit from their existing expertise. For example, the GVSU Laker Store employs student workers in their marketing department to help run store social media and create engaging content. The students also model store merchandise and help spread the word about events.

    “Our marketing department consists of myself and a few student employees, including a student photographer, student graphic designer and marketing intern who help manage the store’s social media efforts,” GVSU Laker Store Auxiliary Services Marketing Manager Liza Guikema said. “We actually have a lot of student employees in our store which is nice because we don’t have to go far to find models. We will pull the schedules from each department when we need new images or have new products. We ask the students if they are willing to model for our social media pages. If they are willing, we check with their managers to see if they are busy or if they could spare 20 minutes or so.”

Student workers can be a fantastic source of information. They can give you insight to what social media platforms their peers prefer, trending fashions, and help create and promote great in-store events. If you have developed a proven way to motivate your student workers, we would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.


Find out how MBS can help you reduce overhead, save students money and  streamline operations with a tailored retail management system. Learn More


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